THE ACTORS' RENAISSANCE, EXPLAINED (SORT OF)
It’s likely that you will hear this plea shouted out from the Blackfriars Playhouse stage during a rehearsal when an actor forgets his or her lines. You might even hear it in a show today. That’s not because our actors are lazy. It’s because learning their lines is the least of their troubles.
Born of an experiment to bring Shakespeare’s performance conditions into our rehearsal hall, The Actors’ Renaissance has become a hallmark of ASC’s unique blend of scholarship and practice. It’s our deepest dive into the Elizabethan era, and in doing it we continue to make discoveries about how things might have happened in the original Blackfriars Playhouse.
Here are the basics: A 12 to 15 member acting company composed entirely of ASC veterans performs four plays in rotating repertory, rehearsing each of them in 10 days or less, without directors. Decisions about setting, music, props, and costumes are made by the company collectively and individually, accessing our stock of clothes, swords, and furniture.
Nothing empowers the actors more than being given the reins. We’ve practiced this way for nearly a dozen winters now, and it has created some of our most memorable productions (for good and ill)!
So if you hear a prithee, consider yourself lucky. It’s all part of the magic of the Ren!
SHAKESPEARE’S REHEARSAL CONDITIONS
In the absence of copiers and printers, actors were provided scripts with only their lines, and with three or four words before each speech—their cues. They relied on listening to each other closely on stage to hear their cue.
NO DIRECTOR, NO DESIGNER
Actors assembled the play and chose their own costumes from what was on-hand, often discarded clothing from their supporting patrons. Scenery? That’s taken care of by lines like, “This is the forest of Arden.”
The playwright fed off the actors’ questions, feedback, and performance to hone the text. This closeness between playwrights and actors may be why so many plays were written between 1580 and 1642 (when the Puritans—boo!—closed the theatres).
Our self-termed “Ren Run” approximates what might have happened in the early stages of Shakespeare’s short rehearsal process where actors run through the play, inventing and improvising as they go.